Wednesday, January 9, 2008

This man died because he was homeless-Vancouver Sun-January 9th, 2008

On the front lines, an emergency room doctor sees people who would live instead of die -- if they had a place to live

Michael Goodwin, Special to the Sun
Published: Wednesday, January 09, 2008

It was 3 a.m on a winter Saturday night and the emergency department was bustling at Vancouver's downtown hospital.

As a resident on call I was attending to a stabbing victim in the trauma bay, someone in the Downtown Eastside who had been stabbed in the back near a pub after closing time. His was not an uncommon story.

Suddenly shouts emanated from the nursing station: "Clear out! Clear the trauma bay! We've got another stabbing! They lost his pulse. ETA five minutes!"

Our first stabbed patient was whisked out of the trauma bay to the only place available for him -- the hallway. We then busied ourselves preparing for the new arrival.

Intravenous bags and lines were opened and primed. Resuscitation equipment was connected and readied. We started to don gowns, gloves and masks in preparation for what would likely be a bloody encounter.

Usually in these situations there is a lull before the patient arrives. Everyone gets ready, and then waits silently for the emergency bay doors to open. Sometimes that waiting seems like forever. This time things happened quickly.

Before we could organize ourselves, the bay doors were suddenly bursting open and the paramedics were wheeling our victim towards us on a stretcher.

One paramedic was "bagging" the patient -- providing breaths via a bag and mask attached to an oxygen canister. A second paramedic was steadily compressing the victim's chest to try to maintain circulation of blood. A third was pushing and steering the stretcher while simultaneously barking out a summary of the story.

Like one of the street performers at Granville Island, he shouted his oration to all of us: "Homeless man stabbed in the anterior mid-chest. Vital signs were lost at the scene. CPR was begun immediately." In other words, this man had died out on the street right in front of them only moments ago and now we were all fighting to get him back.

I couldn't help but look down at the man and his unsightly appearance with pity. His ragged plaid shirts, worn in layers to keep out the winter cold, were now completely soaked in blood. His long unkempt hair, his tattered pants, worn-out shoes and his calloused, dirt-filled hands all confirmed the orator's broadcast that he was homeless.

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